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Ancient Japan. Fleeing from enemies, two wounded samurai arrive at a strange old temple in a remote location in the mountains. The doors to the place are opened by a beautiful and exotic woman, who beckons them inside. Unable to walk any further, they collapse from exhaustion. One of the samurai awakens to find himself miraculously healed. He meets his saviour, a mysterious man who tells him that his friend died from his wounds. The samurai is persuaded to stay the night. His host tells him the legend of the "Tengu", a goblin which is said to reside in the mountains dining on the flesh of men. He goes on to reveal the true name of the Tengu : Aragami. When the samurai asks if Aragami poses a threat to the temple, his host answers : "I am Aragami". The only way for the Samurai to leave the temple is to destroy Aragami. Written by
Yukihiko Tsutsumi and Ryûhei Kitamura each finished their contributions to the short film anthology Jam Films (2002) in record time. As a result producer Shin'ya Kawai gave the two directors a proposal to each create a feature length movie with only two actors, battling in one setting and filmed entirely in one week. The undertaking was called the Duel Project. This was Ryuhei Kitamura's result and Yukihiko Tsutsumi's 2LDK (2003). See more »
Director Ryuhei Kitamura, now famous thanks to the big success of "Versus" and "Azumi", was challenged to make this experimental film in an odd bet with producer Shinya Kawai and fellow filmmaker Yukihiko Tsutsumi. Named the "Duel" project, Kawai challenged the two filmmakers to each create a feature length movie with only two actors, battling in one setting and filmed entirely in one week. With those restrictions limiting the development of a film, a challenge like that sounds insane; but Kitamura succeeds and delivers a film of almost the same caliber as "Versus".
In Kitamura's film, two wounded samurais arrive to a lost temple in the mountains looking for a place to rest. Later, one of them awakes fully healed and is welcomed by the only priest in the temple. He introduces himself as Aragami (Masaya Kato), the God of Battle, and informs the samurai (Takao Osawa) that he healed his wounds, but had to kill his companion to do it. His purpose: to have a duel to death with the samurai.
The movie moves around the showdown, not only physical, but also philosophical between these two warriors; with fluid camera-work that mimics the style of Manga comic books, Kitamura keeps the film moving despite being set entirely in the main room of the temple. This stylish use of the camera really is one of the film's strongest points, as it makes the set look different even when they never change of room.
The characters are very well defined and thanks to a very good developed script, they never let the movie fall. Just like the visuals, the writing is very similar to those of Manga, and one could say that this is exactly how a Manga would look if it were translated frame by frame to screen. While at times the movie drags, it is understandable that a lot of effort was put to make it entertaining even when it's only about two people talking and fighting.
Masaya Kato gives a powerful performance as Aragami, a being beyond man's understanding and with fighting skills perfected through centuries of practice. He really becomes his character and truly makes one belief that he has seen a lot in his life. At the same time, Osawa is very good as the samurai, confused by all what is happening and whose only desire is to get out of the temple alive. Both actors excel in their performances, specially considering the limited freedom they had to work with. In fact, it is thanks to their performances that the script makes the the movie work.
The visual beauty of the duel between the warriors is another one of the movie's strong points. Kitamura knows very well how to put action on films as fans of "Versus" will acknowledge. In "Aragami", he mixes the old with the modern in a stylish surrealist duel that mimics the fight between the two samurais. However, if a flaw is to be found, is that the use of modern music at times contrasts with the intentions of the film, nevertheless, it never becomes a real problem.
While "Aragami" is nowhere near what Kitamura accomplished with the outstanding "Azumi", it still is a very good and different movie that shows the creativity of this director; that he is not afraid of taking risks; and that in fact, like the raging God of Battle, he enjoys a good challenge. 7/10
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